Be #upfront

Mixed ideas

I’m part of a growing network of people who would like to make it easier for conference and workshop organisers to have a wider variety of speakers at their events and to help those who are less confident speakers gain the confidence to represent different points of view at events. It’s win-win!

Although I work alongside a lot of different people, I don’t often see them represented as speakers at events and recently I have been the only female on panels, speaker lineups and leading workshops. On one hand it can make me feel like the token but I have to remember that what I have to say is indeed valuable so token or not, I’ll own it anyway.

My pal Lauren Currie came up with the idea of #upfront. It’s a new approach to bring people together and to kick off a community for speaker curation that will bring different ideas, perspectives and conversations to events. Where people feel they would like to hone their speaking skills, #upfront is there for them too.

This isn’t some nutty fourth wave feminism stunt, it’s a slight dig at conference organisers who mainly feature homogenous panels, it’s not PC gone mad and it’s not lowering the bar. It’s an opportunity to open up discussion and facilitate strong links between people with different backgrounds.

Why mixing it up is important

Because science

Research here there and everywhere demonstrates the benefit of working and thinking in groups with mixed backgrounds. From this Scientific American article: ‘Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogenous groups. This is not simply because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.’

Because it’s right

I hope I don’t surprise anyone too much but the general population isn’t largely made up of cisgender white men. A lack of wider representation on a speaker lineup at events is alienating for a lot of people (including me) and, frankly, it’s getting boring. I challenge you to not do well to predict what will be said at the next all white man panel event you attend in your field or industry. It means we’re not really learning anymore.

Because it challenges status quo

I’ve had people tell me that all white man panels reflect the current state of management and leadership in most industries and sectors and that’s that. Unfortunately that may well be the case but who set the rule that the guy with the loftiest title is the most informed or most capable? From James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds: ‘Heretical or not, it’s the truth: the value of expertise is, in many contexts, overrated….the fundamental truth about expertise is that it is spectacularly narrow. However well informed and sophisticated an expert is, his advice and predictions should be pooled with those of others to get the most out of him.’ (pp 32-34)

Being an #upfront ally means recognizing privilege and handing the mic over to those who don’t really have a voice on the speaking circuit at the moment. Maybe that is the young person just entering the workforce (like Leila Willingham who spoke at Lauren’s latest upfront session) or maybe it is the non-white woman executive, the admin assistant, the local small business owner…you get the idea.

Being #upfront means you can help weave the rich stories and provide more insightful learning and knowledge to the people you speak to at larger events.

Call to action

If you would like to be upfront and don’t know where to start…

If you are a conference organiser and you want to be part of upfront…

…do one or more of these things

Tweet Lauren @redjotter

Tweet Leah @LockhartL

Share this message using #upfront

Email Lauren

Email Leah

Alternative metrics for public services

alternative metric

During the social indicator trend of the 1970’s, specifically in the US government, ‘Choices of indicators were not selected explicitly to address defined policy objectives, nor were they linked to policy proposals in areas where there was a public commitment to action. Indicators were not designed to characterize issues narrowly or to evaluate policies. The choices of what indicators to include may have represented results of negotiation among agency and social report staff but the task had not included public and Congressional debate. Thus, the implications of the indicators were neither salient nor known to these audiences. Moreover, there was no public obligation to examine the data during policy debate in a way that might have forced their linkage to issues.’

This is a quote from Judith Eleanor Innes’s Knowledge and Public Policy: The Search for Meaningful Indicators and it has helped me think through the idea of altmetrics for public services. In academia altmetrics is the practice of looking at the social and cultural impact of research publications by gathering data about citations from around the web- it is an extension of looking at the impact of research by the number of citations in research publications- but we can reimagine altmetrics in public services as citations made in different ways. Maybe something along the lines of… citations made is services accessed that made a positive impact on someone’s life or citations made is the sentiment from web and social media content created by citizens and stakeholders. See what I mean? Stick with me. I acknowledge these are not fully formed ideas but I think they have teeth and there are miles of space for discussion.

Some current national indicators, like ‘Widen use of the Internet’, are measured against the results of just one piece of research- the Scottish Household Survey (SHS). Of the 17,000 people asked to take part in the household survey, nearly 6,000 don’t follow through. The people approached to take part are as a random selection as possible in order to give everyone an opportunity to be selected. An issue, however, is the responses that are taken must be representative and for that reason, weighting is applied to the responses from profiles of people who tend to not take up the offer to take part in the research. For example, 60% of the interview invitations are taken up by older women with men aged 16-25 hardly taking part so the responses of men aged 16-25 are weighted as 1.2 of a response. The weighting of some answers may be considered representative in a traditional analytical community but how can government look at altmetrics for indicators like ‘Widen use of the internet’, which is ripe for near real time subjective data collection through agencies working largely with the populations who don’t take part in SHS. What creative alternative ways could other indicator owners tap into technology and digital tools that collect all kinds of data to complement single sources of information by which the indicator is measured?

Here are two ways we might look at altmetrics for Scottish public services:

  • Social listening: I’ve been talking about this for some time. Social listening and online community management are pretty standard in the commercial sector. Could this same kind of activity be carried out in public services to inform how well they are performing? It might not be so straightforward right now as social listening in government bodies is a grey area. Is it actually spying when government does it? What can we do to make the rules and expectations around public service social listening clearer? Would data and information from social listening be good altmetrics for public services?
  • Detailed data from public services: The creation and development of SCVO’s Good HQ could provide some incredible possibilities for using data to create altmetrics for national and local outcomes or indicators. The surge of open data activity in Scotland will also give us access to new information and creative ways to mash it up.

Though the social indicator movement has been seen by some as a failure, Innes says there is a legacy of the movement and that it helped clarify ‘more is required to inform policy than simply producing academically certified data and handing it to policy makers.’ Traditionally, at least at central government level, analysts have created a selection of indicators and outcomes based on things they know can be measured. As we go into a period of re-evaluating the Scottish National Outcomes tied up with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, let’s start thinking about the altmetrics that can be accessed to complement indicators and outcomes based on existing statistical research methods and topics. Let’s be creative and think about what we can bring into the mix. Something community based and dynamic, as real time as data can get and that can be used alongside traditional consultation as set out in the National Outcomes section of the Community Empowerment Bill.

Print magazines made me realise I’m kind of an asshole

ladies and mags

‘Could I please have a flat white and your wi-fi password?’

*side eye* ‘We don’t have wi-fi because we want people to talk to each other and not stare at their phones.’

And so began an exchange in a cafe near my flat. I’d just moved to a new neighbourhood which is packed with independent cafes, the majority of which deliberately do not offer wi-fi. Since then I have started noticing some things are slowing down and, in these times of information overload, getting back to the good old days of sharing stories and knowledge through beautifully printed artifacts or more slowly, carefully and thoughtfully and ad free online (see newbie info and news sharing social networks This and Ello as examples).

In the past two weeks I have had an unusual number of conversations about magazines and apparently lots of my pals are subscribing to magazines. Like the paper things you hold that has pages you turn. I don’t know why I am surprised, especially as I grew up in the 90’s devouring punk zines and more mainstream classics like Interview, Sassy, Ms and Bust (just to name a few), and I really miss sitting quietly focusing on the words and images in my hands and of course other people do too. This is not to say magazines have gone away since the 90’s but in my circles they’ve mostly gone online, content is expected to be free at all times and print has been reserved for art mags or hipsters. Since my friend Sarah put me on to Stack magazine magazine service and Offscreen magazine, I am seriously considering taking out subscriptions with them, however, I don’t pay for any content online and have never even considered it. I’ve made one donation to one podcast producer in my life despite podcasts being such a huge part of my every day. I immediately close web pages with too many ads on them even if I really want to see the content. Yeah, I installed ad blockers. Da fuq?

So the possibility of buying print content has got me thinking about how I don’t buy digital content and I can’t believe I’m one of those people.

The time I tracked my every move on social media

Social media diary

Earlier this month I contributed to a PhD research project ‘concerned with the role of online information in the creation, building, and assessment of personal reputations.’ My contributions were in the form of a diary and an interview over Skype. The diary exercise was for one week and it involved me reflecting on everything I did (or didn’t do) on any social media channel I use. It was hugely interesting and here I’m going to get meta and reflect on my reflections. If you are interested in taking part in the same research project, contact Frances Ryan through this form on her PhD blog.

Slowing down to think about why I took an action on social media was pretty challenging because it meant articulating something I often do quickly and automatically. I feel confident I know my online voice and identity and so what I do day-to-day on social media is rote but well within certain parameters. I found this comforting because even a few years ago this might not have been the case- I guess it signals a kind of maturity to me. The articles I shared, opinions I expressed and comments I made during the week were mostly to support someone else or to contribute to a conversation but on one occasion I shared something to make a statement and to bolster an argument of mine.

Thinking about how I judge or determine someone else’s reputation based on what they share online was also something I’d never articulated before keeping the diary. On discussion, I think I’m pretty tolerant of people’s opinions or if someone is having a kind of unhinged moment online I just think they’re, well, having a moment. I think it’s really important to understand the views of people who have different opinions to mine but this diary has made me realise I’ve built that dreaded social media echo chamber around me and I am now going to work on building and listening to a more diverse community. I have to admit I’m not entirely sure how to start but thankfully one of my favourite podcasts, Note to Self, has put together some handy tips for just this problem.

I share things about myself I am proud of and that I think are of interest to my networks. The issue of self promotion was discussed in interview and while I don’t think I toot my own horn just for the sake of it, others might interpret my actions that way. This is actually quite a deep issue for me as I’m an American working and living in Scotland and (*broad brush klaxon*) attitudes here about expressing pride in achievement, discussing accomplishment or expressing expertise are much different to American culture. These differences can create difficult situations. Helen Reynolds has recently written a great post about ‘virtue signalling’, a phrase coined by journalist James Bartholomew to partly describe people sharing, liking or commenting on something online really just being a signal that someone is virtuous and not that they really are through action. While I think Mr Bartholomew’s argument is naive and not evidenced (Helen says it’s also unfair and I agree), I’m taking it on board and I am now following him on Twitter. Echo chamber be gone!

I love to share and celebrate the good stuff my social media pals say or do. Sometimes I share information from others to indicate I am aligned with them, their thoughts or their opinions but I don’t share or endorse something solely to ride someone else’s coat tails. It’s interesting because I can see how leveraging a network or a hashtag or similar can work for entities but an individual doing the same thing (unless the individual is also an entity or brand) just seems really lame.

I’ve discovered I’m pretty vanilla in open online spaces. I identified some instances where I very thoughtfully chose to share something privately that could have reasonably shared to a wider group but the subject matter touched on things that I either thought could create a stir because it might be easily misinterpreted, because my sharing could be misinterpreted or that I know others in some of my networks have more extreme feelings or ideas about the subject matter than I do. On those occasions I don’t want to get into a debate, I just want to share something interesting and have a bit of banter around it. Where I think that might not happen with something I want to share I either keep it to myself of share privately with a select few.

I don’t throw shade. OK, maybe that’s not entirely true. I have been known to throw a bit of shade in the past but it’s usually aimed at extremely large organisations who are doing something extremely lame with technology. Which brings me on to the next reflection…

My personal and professional interests overlap in an extreme way. There are a few areas of personal interest that don’t really touch my professional social media content like my dog and sharing on the food front and daily insights front but in my circles it’s normal to have huge professional and personal overlaps which is why my social networks are such rich learning environments for me.

Other than working harder to break my echo chamber, I didn’t see anything in my behaviour online that I really want to change or that I think will be detrimental to my own reputation. But I guess that’s really for everyone else to decide.

Let’s try this again


Oh dear. My regular blogging schedule went right out the window during a series of Quite Serious Life Events over the winter. But in amongst some unsettling stuff some really fantastic things were happening too. So in an attempt to catch you up and kick off my blogging efforts (again) I’ll break some things down. There’s a lot going on…

Since January I’ve been taking a distance learning course through Edinburgh University called Making Use of Digital Research (you can see my student testimonial in that link too.) It’s been a challenge consistently finding enough time to read, digest information, create presentations and write essays while I’m working full time and volunteering a bit too much. It hasn’t been too stressful though because the content is so relevant to my work and the experience has already been affecting the way I am thinking when I’m doing digital engagement consultations and planning. So far I’ve been really excited about altmetrics and now I’m really scrutinising (suspicious of?) the origins of indicators and the metrics by which indicators are measured. We’ve just finished a module about visualising data and it has emphasised for me how fast and loose we play with data viz in government, which can be a rather unfortunate situation.

I’ll also be starting Google’s digital marketing course Squared Online this week. It runs until the end of December and seems to be a good opportunity for me to learn and practically apply skills I don’t really have any need for in the public sector. I’m really excited about it, not least because it ends in December right when my current contract ends I’ll be looking for work. I haven’t had to hustle since I started working for myself two years ago because I’ve been working government contracts back to back and that has been great. But it means I have not experienced a lot of things that make freelancing, well, free. I’ve been working traditional hours in traditional open plan offices in the same organisation- it’s just like being an employee. Being able to go after and choose what I work on, who I work with and how I work is something I’m really looking forward to.

And I recently moved house again. The third time since October when a long term relationship ended, which was a good thing. Most often people say ‘I’m so sorry to hear that’ when I tell them I split with my man but it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. (Take it from me, when you recognise your relationship is going south nip it in the bud. If your man’s low emotional IQ means he’s deliberately repellent in an effort to avoid having a conversation then DTMFA. You deserve much more. And no, it won’t get better if you just wait it out.) Moving house this time is long term, I’m in a whole new neighbourhood away from old memories and it’s made a world of difference to my mental health.



Taking physical challenges to the next level, I’m also training for an ultra-marathon two person relay in September. For a traditionally shaped recreational runner, the training is going to be difficult. It’s not always physical, these running challenges, but mental. Finding the right approach, attitude and drive for running has taken years for me to get to but I’ve found a lot of strength in breathing patterns, setting personal challenges and stopping comparisons to other people I’ll never be as fast or as fit as. Being realistic and having perspective is the name of the game!

So it’s all change and it’s all good. I’m really looking forward to what this year brings with me taking more control and taking on more challenges. Watch this space…